Category Archives: Business

Social Responsibility: If Small Businesses Won’t Take the Lead, Who Will?

If you’re a small business owner, what do you think of the phrase ‘corporate social responsibility’? I imagine it’s somewhere between the phrases ‘employee leave policy’ and ‘estimated tax payments’. It’s just not that exciting sounding!

Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

Although it doesn’t sound sexy, I assure you this is an important concept that has implications for how we at Joy Accounting interact with any business as well as how we run our own business.

Let’s start with the definition. According to this article, corporate social responsibility refers to the “self-imposed responsibility of companies to society in areas such as the environment, the economy, employee well-being, and competition ethics.” When you survey the corporate scene, how many companies are doing well at being socially responsible?

The Inherent Challenge

As noted in the definition, the social responsibility that we’re talking about is self-imposed – meaning that there are no industry or government regulations that compel the company to do so; we are strictly talking ‘above and beyond’. There are a lot of reasons for companies to engage in social responsibility, and motives can range from purely altruistic on one end to simply looking good on the other. But whatever the motive, it is a net positive when the market demands that companies move in a direction towards social responsibility.

Employee well-being (one of the categories listed above) is quite important to any of us who are employees. As the US economy has done quite well, it has become a job seekers’ market. As a consultant working with quite a few large companies in the US, I’ve seen first-hand the race to attract better talent by offering increased salaries and a more attractive benefit package, which is (of course) a good thing. But it’s fair to ask what happens when the tables turn and it’s no longer a job seekers’ market.

This is why I was shocked (in a good way) when in 2015 Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments, instituted a minimum salary of $70,000 for everyone in his company. I’m sure this was not a ‘smart money’ move in the traditional capitalistic sense. But it was inspiring because it was clearly designed to improve the lives of employees despite it likely not making sense to the immediate bottom line. (Please check out this article to read more about Dan’s perspective – wow!)

Therefore, the inherent challenge to the small business owner who wants to be socially conscious is to do so for the right reasons – because you truly want to use your business to improve the world we live in.

The Gap to be Filled

If we’ve learned one thing over the last few years of political chaos in much of the Western world, it’s clear that government as a whole cannot be counted on to go ‘above and beyond’ for the citizens that they lead. I wouldn’t exactly give the most powerful governments in the world an ‘A’ on social responsibility over the last few years.

This leaves it to businesses and individuals to fill the social responsibility gap. And the question of whether larger companies will only be as ‘socially responsible as is convenient’ is going to be an important one in the coming years. I hope more people like the Dan Price’s of the world step forward and take the lead – but it’s not a sure thing.

Small business owners, that means you and I have an opportunity to fill this gap. We are uniquely positioned to do this because we do not have the layers upon layers of stakeholders that larger businesses have; we can nimbly steer our company towards social responsibility. Although oftentimes our impact as individual businesses can feel quite small, our collective impact is significant.

In future blogs I’d like to explore a few ways that small businesses can in fact lead the way on social responsibility. 


Artificial Intelligence and Accounting – The Challenge of ‘Now’

Although we can understand the past (what we’ve experienced) and try to predict the future (what we can dream up), often the most difficult thing to understand is what is happening RIGHT NOW. And nowhere today is that more true than in artificial intelligence.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve all heard buzzwords such as ‘artificial intelligence’ a million times. And there is no doubt that the buzz is real; the resulting advances will change the way we work and live in a fundamental way. According to Andrew Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, “Artificial intelligence is the science and engineering of making computers behave in ways that, until recently, we thought required human intelligence.”

When it comes to AI, on the one end of the spectrum – let’s call it ‘The Sky Is Falling’ view – the questions are along the lines of ‘How long until I lose my job to a robot?’On the other end – let’s call it the ‘Pie in the Sky’ view – the questions more closely resemble ‘How long until I can live comfortably without working so much since AI will be doing my time-consuming work?’

Our own mental model of the world is shaped by past experiences. When something completely new comes into existence – like the Internet in the 90’s – it’s takes some adjusting to wrap our brains around what it means and how to use it. You don’t have to look very far on Facebook to see that many of us are still on the social media learning curve – ourselves included!

On the other end of the spectrum, our ability to dream helps us to see what is possible in the future. Movies have always tried to predict what the future will look like, sometimes with creepy accuracy…and sometimes not. I looked up a few big misses, and they included gems from movies like Back to the Future II, which showed at various points both restaurants with workout bikes and people floating around on hoverboards (not to pick on this movie too much as it also basically predicted the Cubs winning the World Series after a 100+ year drought). We don’t always get the future right, but many people enjoy thinking about what could be possible.

Although we can understand the past (what we’ve experienced) and try to predict the future (what we can dream up), often the most difficult thing to understand is what is happening RIGHT NOW. And nowhere today is that more true than in artificial intelligence. I’m sure that each of us have two kinds of stories – the first kind involving ‘wow’ experiences (“I can’t believe this system is that smart/helpful/amazing”) and the second kind quite the opposite (“I can’t believe it’s 2019 and this device still can’t do X, Y, or Z”).

Terra and I had the second type of experience while navigating through Seville, Spain, a couple of years ago. I made the mistake of driving towards the center of the old town, and we found ourselves on roads that were so narrow that the sidewalks were essentially acting as rails on both sides. A couple of restaurants had to move a few tables for us to get around them! We were guided to this perilous location by our helpful Google Maps assistant. Worse yet, when we got to a pedestrian square, her directions basically indicated that we needed to stop, pick up and carry the car across the square, and continue on our merry way. Yeah right!?!

Existence in this seemingly perpetual transitory state can seem confusing at best and irritating at worst. Every intelligent system we use (and the companies behind them) are continually trying to improve, but we are (sometimes painfully) living through their growing pains. Technological advances have absolutely enabled us to say “Yes, we can help” to just about every single problem/issue that a client can come to us with.

This is no less true in the Accounting industry. On the one hand we (as Accounting professionals) are experiencing amazing times because of this technological improvement. We are constantly finding new ways to utilize cutting-edge technology to solve business problems. Although we do encounter a lot of similar issues, there are occasions for new problems to come to the forefront. And when that happens, we invariably say ‘I’m sure there is a solution for that!” And then we invariably find it. Technological advances have absolutely enabled us to say “Yes, we can help” to just about every single problem/issue that a client can come to us with.

But the important thing to realize is that artificial intelligence is in many ways in its infancy, and therefore as a small business owner it’s critical to have professionals by your side who have ‘seen it all’ and understand the pitfalls and challenges associated with each system. Despite the amazing progress we’ve made, businesses still need trained professionals who know how to scout out the errors or anomalies in an imperfect software world.

We at Joy Accounting have built a library of knowledge based on these particulars, including how well specific systems work together (or not). Recently we noticed some minor calculation errors in one of our accounting programs that, had we not known what to look for, would have gone unnoticed and could have affected clients negatively. This latter example is more related to automation than AI per se, but the same idea applies – you need someone who knows the ins and out of the software you are using by your side. Despite the amazing progress we’ve made, businesses still need trained professionals who know how to scout out the errors or anomalies in an imperfect software world.

I’ll leave you with a Forbes article from 2018. Although the article clearly suggests that artificial intelligence is the future of accounting (in fact that’s in the title!), it also states that “Despite being very promising, the accuracy of the machine learning algorithms used in most of today’s solutions still needs to significantly improve in efficiency to avoid accounting errors and really fulfill their promise of automation.”